A Puzzling Neighbor – Part One

*This was my first story posted and I have yet to give it a thorough edit. Soon to come!

Glenn Hebert always thought that he was rather clever for stumbling upon the idea of a date walk. It came to him by accident at a English Literature workshop during his senior year of pubic school. His then high school crush, Susan Parks, had just agreed to go on a date, something that Glenn wasn’t ready to believe as his self-confidence already deemed it a fools errand to even bother asking. He found himself rather terrified, then, when she tossed the ball back to his side of the court with a playful demand of his idea of their first date.

“So what are we going to do?”

“I thought it would be nice to go for a walk. Maybe we could get to know each other better.”

“And being in the same class since fourth-grade hasn’t given us enough time?”

“Uhh… no.”

The couple ventured that night for hours, traveling down the same neighborhoods over and over until they ended at Susan’s door step for curfew. The two were more exhausted from constant laughter than their sore legs or throbbing feet combined. Glenn had been surprised that he was able to hold her hand for the last few blocks, and even more so that he never shied away when she kissed him for the first time that night.

“Was that your plan?”

“Not at all. I was just stalling until I thought of something better,” he had said.

“You didn’t have to. Spontaneity opened the door to who you really are. You are confident, funny, and really nice, and I like that person a lot. So let’s do this again sometime – this date walk of ours. If anyone asks, I’ll tell them it was your idea.”

What started as a quaint ice-breaker evolved into a sweetly anticipated outing that followed them as they moved to a single floor ranch in Brentwood Falls. Married, and happy. It didn’t take them long to explore every nook-and-cranny of the town, and they acquired an impressive log with all of the best routes. Most of the time, however, they just enjoyed the simplicity of walking together hand-in-hand, as they have now every week to now, where Glenn and Susan make their way home

“I think I am going right to bed when we get home. Big test tomorrow for my sophomores in the morning,” said Susan.

The corner of Brentwood Falls they called home was a quiet suburban cluster of modest colonials, split level duplexes, or starter homes for a single-family. Most who lived in this area of town were calm, responsible types who relished the quality of the local school system. It was a place that Glenn and Susan could feel comfortable staying in, and one day, maybe raise a family.

“How do you think they will do?”

“I honestly don’t know,” she paused “We will see.”

“You’re a great teacher. I know the grades will be fine,” Glenn said with soothing reassurance.

Susan hugged into his right arm, and sighed. The beginning of the school year was always a stressful time for the two as they both taught in the local district. Glenn had it easier as he was Brentwood Elementary’s third grade History teacher, and didn’t need to worry about the common complaints of raging hormones and mouthy know-it-alls that frightened him more than it did his wife.

“Do you want to swap for the day? History has to be so fun at that age.”

Susan often fantasied of traveling back in time, specifically to College where she wanted to force her younger self to look upon her current, premature grays that streaked through her thin, charcoal colored hair. She had just cut it shoulder length, and Glenn thought that it complimented her naturally young face nicely despite her insecurities.

“It’s really amazing. Columbus Day is always a great time with the kids in class.”

Glenn had a hard time looking away from the beauty of the emerging stars that squeezed through the fleeting dusk sky. He grew into a natural romantic over time, and always struck upon an opportunity to hold Susan close. A sensation of warmth surged through Glenn, and he wanted to wrap his love into him with a never ending embrace from the inspiration above. It startled him that Susan didn’t feel the same way as the pulled back.

“Why is that light on in that window?” She pointed to the vacant house across the road.

They stood on the corner of Elizabeth and Helena Street, silent with trepidation from the unknown light that sickly emitted from the rear window of Three Elizabeth Street – a house that has been on the market since Glenn and Susan moved to the block.

“I have no idea,” Glenn really didn’t know what to say and tried to dismiss the issue “Maybe someone was doing work on the inside and didn’t turn off the light.”

Susan stood with a look that concerned Glenn more than the potential threat of home invaders or filthy squatters.

“Let’s go check it out.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Glenn knew as soon as he finished speaking that he had left an opening for Susan to feed her adventurous appetite.

“What if it is more than a light? I’d hate to think of a break-in so close to home, Glenn.”

“So what: Call the cops if we see someone? What if there was a new owner and they just forgot to take down the for-sale-sign?”

Susan only stared at Glenn with a furrowed brow and a look of disbelief that was easily noticeable from the street lamp above. It was inevitable that she would get her way when she really wanted it, and he had learned that it futile to fight her head-on. He gave in.

“Alright, alright. Let’s go check it out then.”

Three Elizabeth Street was a modest colonial, painted in traditional white with forest-green shutters and trim. A screen porch covered the front of the house and a single-bay garage was attached on the opposite side. Twin dormers protruded from the middle of the roof while a brick chimney capped-off the peak closest to them.

“What’s the plan?” Susan had asked him now as she did when they first met with a nervous tone.

“I… I have no idea. Go walk to the window and look in?”

“That is terrible,” blurted Susan.

He motioned with his hands for her to quiet.

“What’s your plan, then?” he whispered, pushing his back to the wood siding of the home.

Susan couldn’t take her eyes from the sickly column of light that was cast upon the tall grass from behind the glass. She held her breathe, watching, as if waiting for something to happen. Glenn wished that the light would just vanish, so they could go home and forget about this idea. For the first time ever, Glenn wanted date walk to end. Then suddenly, Susan shook her head, breaking free from her strained concentration on the ghostly light that saturated the earth.

“Screw it.”

She ripped her interlaced fingers away from Glenn’s hand and marched towards the window. It was Glenn’s turn to hold his breathe as he watched Susan waste no time with a safe peek inside. She simply pivoted, and looked head no through the mirror with brazen fervor that faded instantly to confused shock as she dipped under the outside sill.

“I’ll call the cops right now. Was it a robber?”

His hands shook as he pulled out his cellphone.

“Come here,” her whisper was sharp and commanding, but filled with perplexity.

“What is it then?”

“It’s an old man doing a jigsaw puzzle.”

“This is a bad time for a joke. Do I tell the dispatcher that he is armed?”

Glenn had nearly thumbed the send button on his 9-1-1 call when Susan stopped him.

“There is an old man sitting at a table doing a jigsaw puzzle. Must be the new owner, look,” she pointed to the window.

Glenn forced himself to push forward to the window. He saw that It was, indeed, an old man, sitting at a table with thousands of tiny, scattered jigsaw pieces before him. His bony, outstretched fingers touched each piece with a downward stroke that reminded Glenn of someone practicing braille. Glenn had done a few puzzles in his time, and knew that the man had just begun as he was in the early stages of sorting the pieces. The man never moved his gaze to notice that anyone was watching him.

“Is he still sitting there?” asked Susan as she stood next to the window.

The man’s head was tilted down, but Glenn was able to still examine a disturbing glimpse of his facial features. Paper thin skin pulled back from the man’s high cheekbones and around his jawline, giving his toothless mouth the resemblance of a sharks predatory maw. Glenn swore that he had never seen anyone that old be able to smile so wide. He wore a button-up shirt that was shockingly whiter than his tendrils of vanishing hair that stuck from his age-spotted head. Before Glenn turned to walk away from the window, he noticed several paintings that hung from the visible walls of the room. It was hard to make out, but one of the paintings was of a woman who had a striking resemblance to Susan. As Glenn squinted his eyes in hopes to investigate this further, he saw the man slowly turn his head towards him. He stopped his eerie sight just before the window. On the other side of that spot was Susan. Glenn couldn’t explain to himself why, but he felt that the man knew they were there.

“Time to go, Susan.”

Glenn wanted to leave and never look back, but Susan’s lingering curiosity held their escape hostage. She moved from her spot on Glenn’s left, spinning over his body and standing tall, face-first to the window.

“Let’s not bother him anymore, please. Can we just go home now?”

“He must did walk to another room. He’s a going-gone-goner, Glean.”

The heavy blanket of fear that smothered Glenn’s senses delayed the obvious realization that something was off with Susan’s speech. He stepped behind her and placed his hands softly on her shoulders. He was able to see over her head, and noticed the once disorganized mess was now segregated into two sections: the border, and the inside puzzle pieces. Glenn tried to turn her away from the window and to him, but she resisted.

“Can we go now, please?” Glenn begged to Susan.

“G’whur? Can we go to the woobliette?”

Her words were slurred together in a harsh, intoxicated garble that made no sense to him. She then turned on her own, swinging her arms around her sides while looking to a spot on Glenn’s face that was below his eyes.

“What are we doing on our walk-a-date this afternoon, Glean? Hopefully going to the oubliette. In you go – hop on in. I hear it will be all better when you forget. It will feel like you just got out!

Immediately Glenn remembered the acronym for spotting a stroke from the First Aid course the school nurse taught last year to the district’s faculty. Her face was void of drooping features and her arms were moving back and forth in a light swinging motion that was close to her torso, so he jumped to the next identifier with his cellphone at the ready.

“Susan. Can you look up and tell me how pretty the moon is tonight?”

It was a crescent sliver above them, but Susan never looked to see that it was indeed beautiful. She only smiled at Glenn.

“Fucking moon? The sun will barely reach down. Easy to hop in, easy to get out. Now how about that walk-a-whatever. Days-a-wasting.

The emergency dispatcher was on the phone before she finished answering.

“Yes my name is Glenn Hebert and I think my wife is having a stroke.”

© Copyright John Potts Jr 2016 – 2017

Author: John Potts Jr

I write horror and dark humor... and that's about it. Come on over and give a read sometime! Thanks! K bye!

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